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An Astounding Find on the Domestic Slave Trade in Charleston

By Julia Eichelberger
Posted on 19 June 2023 | 5:27 pm — 

Bernard Powers, Director, reports on this significant research discovery:

The Center for the Study of Slavery in Charleston fosters a deeper public understanding of slavery and its complex legacies. It supports academic research and teaching that examine the role of slavery in the history of the College and our region. Unfortunately, in Charleston and in many other cities, much of slavery’s past imprint today is shadowy, obscured or completely invisible to our contemporaries. In addition to studying the institution at large, at the Center, our plans include identifying many of the locations that previously comprised Charleston’s downtown slave trading district. These sites will be marked where possible with physical signage, and they will be cohesively catalogued for presentation including on digital platforms for virtual access. It will take considerable energy and time to accomplish this purpose; however, we are certain that meticulous and diligent research can locate the vestiges of this aspect of the once all-pervasive “peculiar institution” and its impact. Just recently our good efforts were advanced through the research of Lauren Davila, a graduate student in the College of Charleston’s master’s degree program and an intern at the Center. While investigating domestic slave trade advertisements in the local newspapers, she came across one that changed the historical record of this commerce in human beings as we understood it until now. The ad she found, announcing without fanfare the sale of six hundred human beings, is in the lower left-hand corner of the image below.

Ad fron Feb. 24, 1835

 

Lauren’s work came to the attention of Jennifer Berry Hawes, an award-winning journalist for ProPublica with a special knack for exploring the interstices of southern history; Jennifer expanded Lauren’s findings.  To read about the remarkable work they have done see the ProPublica article, “How a Grad Student Discovered the Largest Known Slave Auction in the US,” which has also been republished in the Post and Courier.

Lauren Davila near the site of the auction she discovered.

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